The more questions I ask, the more certain the answers will be. Questions lead to research; research leads to risk reduction in both business and in my life.
My peer group followed a discipline that reinforced this for me early in my business career. Each of us could bring a key issue to share with the group to gain advice. Most of the things we brought were compelling, they were important since they related to our most difficult decisions.
The first step required of us was to write up a one-page review of the issue, answering questions in writing such as “why is the issue so compelling; what have you done so far to address the issue; how did it become an issue; what do you want from the group?”
The answers were sent to the other members before we convened so that they could consider them in advance. Once in our meeting, the member was required to verbally present what we wrote to assure we were all hearing the same thing.
After the presentation the group was only allowed to ask questions until all questions were exhausted. This was always the hard part since it is human nature to confuse questions and answers.
Our Chair had to work hard to avoid our suggesting an answer disguised as a question. The Chair also had to keep the issue presenter from answering a question with a solution.
The discipline required to keep us on track must have been rough. And yet by taking that time until all questions were absorbed and answered, every member in the group was far more prepared to provide good advice.
By the time we started proposing solutions to the issue, we had often spent an hour just on the questions.
This exercise led to the discipline I try to apply to every decision I make, both business and personal: Stay with the questions, dig deep for as long as possible, before coming to the answers/decisions.
A more intelligent but very readable dive into this process can be found in Daniel Kahneman’s “Thinking Fast and Slow” book. I recommend it highly for those who would like to better understand why we make the decisions we make, both good and bad.
According to Kahneman our brains have a “system 1”, (fast, intuitive) and a “system 2” (slow, analytical) process to follow. My natural tendency is the former, I’ve done better over time by learning to use the latter.
Most bad decisions I’ve made required fewer questions; the good ones took more time.
Quote of the Month:
I pick my favourite quotations and store them in my mind as ready armour, offensive or defensive, amid the struggle of this turbulent existence.
Song of the Month: “I’m Just Thinkin’ About Love” by Wild Rivers
Editor’s Note: For the first time I can remember, I enjoyed the video of this song almost as much as the song. The band members are showing off a bit of grace and humor. I came upon this Canadian band while listening to another favorite band’s “radio mix”. Wild Rivers will become a new band to explore, perhaps go see on tour this year. Enjoy.
Favorite Lyric (since it reminded me of 50 years with Alice):
“We could do the long haul
We could ride it out, I know the ride's rough
But try us”
Book of the Month: “Crook Manifesto”, by Colson Whitehead
Editor’s note: This is my second Whitehead read and I haven’t even gone back to his Pulitzer Prize winners (“Underground Railroad” and “Nickel Boys”) yet. It is also his second book featuring Ray Carney, a sometimes-good bad guy set in 1970s Harlem. Carney, a full-time furniture store owner and part-time fence, gets in and out of trouble with characters named Zippo, Pepper and Chink Montague in search of tickets to a Jackson Five concert for his daughter. Yep, pretty crazy and also very entertaining.
Favorite excerpt (and an example of Whitehead’s rich writing style):
“They were tearing up the street outside the Martinez Funeral Home again, exposing the layers beneath the black asphalt. The jackhammers did not stop, the racket went on for hours, and it was as if the noise from out of the hole was that of the machine of the city and you could now hear the true operation of the metropolis. The noisy industry of vales and pistons, the great gears grinding against each other, the clack and snap and bang. Maybe after midnight in the hours of crime and sleeplessness you may hear it, too, if you listen closely: a distant whir or rumble.”